My upcoming novel BITTER SPRINGS is set in 1870’s San Felipe Del Rio (Del Rio, TX it’s called now), and it follows Renaldo Valle Santos (I use Spanish-naming protocol, in which the mother’s surname is added after the paternal family name). Renaldo has a twin sister Calandaria, a bit of a spitfire. And by a bit I mean a lot. And it’s on purpose, and it’s not anachronistic.
In the latter half of the 19th Century in Mexico, revolution was brewing. Within the past hundred years, they’d already won their independence from Spain, fought nasty, long battles with Texicans (Tejanos were people who separated from Mexico in that they lived in Texas, the “border lands/buffer zone” that Spain established, didn’t want to become American, didn’t necessarily want to be Mexican even though that and the Native Americans of the region were their heritage; they just wanted to be left alone), and some nasty battles with America–still ongoing.
Some of the most important Mexican feminists in history were born at this time, and man, they kicked butt.
Women like Dolores Jiménez y Muro, an upper middle-class woman born in 1850 who was an absolute radical, outspoken both in person and with her pen, who spent her life fighting for the land rights of Indigenous people and the women of Mexico, continued fighting while jailed, and consistently fought for women’s wages to be equal to their male counterparts. Remember, this is the late 1800s.
María Enriqueta Camarillo y Roa de Pereyra (María Enriqueta Camarillo) was a Mexican poet who became so beloved by the people of Mexico that she has numerous libraries and buildings named after her, as well as a gorgeous statue in Mexico City.
She wrote for a Mexican feminist magazine, La Mujer Mexicana, where she met other women who advocated for education and socialist ideals, and wrote books in their favor for decades, books still used in teaching today.
Laura Mèndez de Cuenca, educator and women’s rights advocate, and who founded La Mujer Mexicana. It is because of her that so many feminists in Mexico were able to find one another and speak out against pedagogy, the culture of domesticity, and other issues related to women’s rights.
Juana Belén Gutiérrez de Mendoza, a Caxcan and native from Durango who used her intelligence and considerable writing talents to attack the patriarchy–the church, the government, anyone who was threatening workers and the general public.
She was jailed several times, started her own paper, and encouraged workers and peasants to vote, dedicating her entire life to speaking out about the injustices of power structures.
Elisa Acuña Rosetti, who began teaching literacy in rural areas at 13, and became a board member for the Mexican Liberal Party, advocating for socialism and justice, was arrested with other feminist anarchists and sent to one of the worst prisons in modern times, San Juan de Ulua, for several years.
She dedicated her life to helping the poor, the disaffected, and especially the indigenous people of Mexico.
These women faced intense intimidation in a time when women were meant to do what they were told and be quiet about it. Many of them refused to fall (what they perceived as) victim to domesticity, and while one of these women married, none of them had children, not an easy feat at the time. Their lives were dedicated to speaking out for those who had no voice even though many of these women were imprisoned in some of the harshest environments of the time. (When hardened soldiers pass out at the sight of prison conditions, you know it’s bad.)
Have you ever heard of these women? They were intellectuals who acted against injustices, who spoke up for others, women who were radicals of their time. Heck, given the political landscape today, they’re still radicals. ¡Viva La Mujer Mexicana!